Smile Politely

The KISS of folkgrass

abI’ll try to keep this short since the backlash might be the more interesting feature here. 

To be perfectly honest, I have to side with Joel when it comes to the Avett Brothers.  There is an inherent cheesiness in the irony of the folk and bluegrass movement transitioning into anthemic arena-sized sing-alongs.  

The same could be said about the inherent shtick of Israelite Chaim Witz donning make-up, spewing fire and playing a bloody axe-shaped bass.  

But I love KISS, so what is my problem with the Avett Brothers?  I spent the last 20 years in the Carolinas, so I should get it, right?  Maybe not.

Their show Thursday evening at the Canopy Club was colossal.  In my short time in Champaign-Urbana, I have never seen a crowd more enthusiastic about a single act at the Canopy Club.  For the majority of the set, the audience sang along with every single word to every single song and nearly hummed along to the solos as well.  

But the Avett Brothers epitomize my confusion about the resurgence of folk, bluegrass and any hybrid thereof.  As a genre that I have always felt was best kept to smaller, more intimate venues and Democratic National Conventions, it has been interesting to watch not only the transition into national touring large-venue acts, but also to watch mainstream interest polish an intrinsically unpolished art form.  

I have come to learn that Rick Rubin’s involvement with their latest release, I and Love and You, is viewed by many as an omen that larger (but not necessarily better) things are in store for the Avett Brothers, but the audience obviously had no qualms singing along to the Rubin-produced tracks.  It looks like they were headed for greater success regardless.  As a rule of thumb, when any act shaves their beards, they’re usually headed for primetime. 

This may be exemplified by the fact that the Avett Brothers opted not to perform the title track from I and Love and You Thursday night as they did less than a month before on the Late Show with David Letterman.  I expected it to make an appearance during the three-song encore, but to no avail.  

By the time they closed with “Talk of Indolence,” I realized that the reasons I am indifferent to the shtick of the Avett Brothers live is the reason why I should spend more time listening to their records.  On the contrary, the reasons why I enjoy watching the Avett Brothers live is the exact reason I probably won’t bother picking up I and Love and You.  In due time perhaps. 

Either way, the show was killer and I’m hardly a fan.  Just imagine how the die-hards felt.  

…And Joe Kwon shredded the shit out of that cello.

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